I seem to be talking to people about stress a lot recently. The air is thick with it. The whole world’s been wrapped in it for over a year, like the shittest blanket ever.
And just because lockdown seems to be coming to an end I don’t think that’s necessarily the end of the stress. This whole period of readjustment is likely to leave us feeling somewhat wobbly too.
I keep doing things that used to be normal, like driving at night or spending time with a stranger. Except I haven’t done them in over a year, so now they’re both familiar and unknown at the same time. Very strange.
Look after yourselves, friends. The bumpy bit isn’t over yet.
Feel good habits = better than feeling bad
I did a magazine interview this week where I had to list my feel good habits. This was when I realised that my whole life is basically a string of habits designed to keep me on an even keel. I thought it might be helpful to share some of that stuff in case it could help you stay on an even keel too.
It’s probably worth mentioning that immediately before I started a lot of these habits I was experiencing chronic anxiety and more than a few hideous, collapsing-in-the-street style panic attacks. That’s all gone now. I honestly feel great.
But I’m not naive enough to think that anxiety is gone forever. It’s like grief in that respect – sometimes it’s a giant black cloud and sometimes it’s a tiny grimy speck but it’s never entirely gone.
So we must crack on with the stuff that makes us feel good, because we’ll always need that extra scaffolding to reinforce us.
My feel good habits
- Yoga – Started this in January and still doing it. Every day I get up and stick on a Youtube video and do about 20 minutes. I don’t think of it as exercise so much as mind/body meditation. Very good for improved focus, stopping overthinking and helping me to stay in the moment.
- Shower, skincare, makeup every day – Even if I’m not leaving the house or seeing anybody. In fact, the less likely I am to see anybody, the more likely I am to be wearing flaming red lipstick and glittery eyeliner. It’s not about how it makes me look; it’s about how it makes me feel (daft but happy. Happydaft. There’s a name for your next band).
- Exercise – I have a yearly goal of 150 gym sessions, so I just make a note of every time I go. Don’t set any other target other than walking through the gym door, but once I’m there I figure I might as well exercise. Also do 12 to 15k steps a day. No idea why. I’ve been wearing a Fitbit for years so it just sort of happened. Exercise is the most calming thing I do.
- Water – I keep a water bottle on my desk and drink about 2 or 3 litres. Great for skin, brain, joints, all of it.
- Daily German lesson on Duolingo – took this up over lockdown as something positive to do with my brain and am enjoying it so will continue. You have to really focus on it so it’s quite a good distraction from stress.
- Sleep – Good sleep underpins everything and bad sleep undermines everything. I go upstairs at 10pm now and read until putting the light off at 11pm. No looking at my phone in the hour before sleep. I set an alarm for 7:30am every day so my sleep is regular. When I was very anxious I had bad insomnia and would often be wide awake at 3am. That doesn’t happen now. I sleep really well most nights.
- Alcohol – I was never a big drinker, but I realised that I was less able to process alcohol as I got older and more prone to hangxiety. So now I have no alcohol Sunday – Thursday and on Friday & Saturday I’ll have a few glasses of red wine after 9pm. I never drink in daylight or if I’m doing something potentially stressful the next day, such as giving a talk or going on a long drive.
How to create feel good habits that you’ll actually stick to
Bear in mind that all of the above is the accumulation of several years’ worth of changes. I didn’t start it all at once. Plus I was writing a couple of books about healthy, positive habits during this time and inevitably it rubbed off.
This is what I’ve learned about how to create healthy feel good habits that stick:
1. Don’t wait until New Year and don’t try to do it all at once. Pick one thing you really want to do and start there.
2. Add your new habit on to something you already do, such as when you brush your teeth, when you first get up etc. Be specific about when you’re going to do it.
3. Start small – what is the easiest way to begin your habit? What is the very first step?
4. Positive habits are much easier to stick to than negative habits, ie it’s easier to start doing something than it is to stop it. So if you want to stop doing something, think about what you might be doing instead and make that your goal. For example, if you don’t want to drink wine every night, what would you rather do with your evenings?
5. Only take on habits that you can imagine yourself doing for life. If you can imagine doing it for life then it’s easier to do it for now.